Heritage Lodge Recovery Story, Reimagining Sustainable Hospitality with Community Values
Binna Burra Lodge (Lamington National Park, Australia) offers lessons on sustainable tourism recovery, from its experience recovering from wildfire damages and dealing with the COVID-19 crisis.
Binna Burra Lodge
Lamington National Park, Australia
- Sustainability is a process of continuous improvement which includes engaging and educating staff members on what it means to be true to the business' commitment to sustainable tourism.
- Successful recovery from disasters and crises depend on the business' ability to reset, reimagine and recreate that which has been lost.
- Maintaining positive relationships with internal and external stakeholders will determine your ability to respond and recover from crises.
- Don't stop with rebuilding what was lost; where possible, seek opportunities to find new product ideas and create new experiences.
From Recovery to Resilience
As the world continues to grapple with the changes and challenges presented by the pandemic, “recovery” is a major theme impacting almost all aspects of current tourism discussions, and there is a lot of talk around the need for “building back better”.
But instead of just talking about it, how can the tourism industry ensure a truly sustainable, inclusive and resilient recovery?
Binna Burra, which is in the world heritage-listed Lamington National Park (Queensland, Australia), offers inspirations for tourism businesses, as well as lessons on preparing for, responding to and recovering from crises, and becoming more resilient.
At the beginning of the six-month Black Summer bushfires in Australia (2019/2020) the core ecolodge business of Binna Burra was destroyed and it took almost one year to resume partial operations. Six months before the re-opening, the COVID-19 pandemic arrived, and like everybody else around the world, Binna Burra now has to operate within the context of COVID.
Fortunately for the lodge, the primary market is within about a two-hour drive of the destination, so even when state or international borders are closed, Binna Burra is still able to attract the domestic market.
Sustainability in the Context of Crisis Response and Recovery
Binna Burra has practiced what is now known as "sustainable tourism" since it was founded back in the early 1930s. More than 20 years ago, it was the first commercial accommodation in Australia to achieve certification with a recognised eco-label. So sustainability is within the DNA of the organisation, which is an unlisted public company under Australian corporate law.
For Binna Burra, sustainability means a process of continuous improvement which includes making all operations staff (new and experienced) constantly aware of the "what" and "how" of being true to the lodge's commitment to sustainable tourism.
The changes that COVID has brought to the business include higher compliance with various health and hygiene practices throughout the business, extra costs for deep-cleaning and more regular cleaning of rooms and all points of people contact. On the other hand, COVID has also seen an expansion of the core market who are seeking clean and green nature-based experiences.
Balancing Recovery Priorities and Sustainability Goals
The key is to stay positive and focus on the opportunities to reset, reimagine and recreate that which was lost. Binna Burra's bushfire response and recovery has involved a strategic approach to identify and engage ‘PALs’ – Partnerships, Alliances, Linkages.
Those PALs have been vital, as within a week of the disaster, the Binna Burra Recovery Framework had been developed and implementation commenced.
A research project undertaken by Griffith University identified the following key lessons learn following our response and recovery process after the devastation in 2019:
- Have multiple trained fire wardens, particularly given varying shift patterns and high-risk and/or remote locations. Define precise roles prior to the emergency and during the event.
- Have multi-skilled, cross-trained staff that are able to deal with complex and variable situations, and transferable skills. This is particularly relevant during the recovery process when staff may have to undertake roles outside of their normal duties. Conduct regular crisis scenario training.
- Have a go-kit that is easily accessible and contains information required to keep business trading and/or be able to respond to insurers and banks etc., as well as spare building and vehicle keys. Store important archive documents off-site, and store cash and valuable items in a way that is easy to move. Station staff to avoid more visitors to the disaster zone.
- Do not let business get in the way of early evacuation.
- Pre-determine the most senior person in the organisation as a single spokesperson to communicate and liaise with stakeholders and media.
- Prepare to operate remotely and set-up temporary headquarters. Portable technology infrastructure and telecommunications and cloud-based computing is important.
- Pivot your communications and website in response to the event.
- Consider forward bookings and distribution channel partners to help manage cash flow in the event of a disaster.
- Build relationships with key stakeholders and partners prior to the event such as destination marketing organisations, the media, emergency services and government.
- Understand your staffing responsibilities and have a staff management plan in the event of a disaster with particular consideration to the post-disaster staff management strategy e.g. business disruption insurance.
- Review insurance policies with an experienced insurance broker (at least once a year).
Innovation and Entrepreneurial Spirit
Over the next few years, rebuilding the business, which has suffered heavily from lost infrastructure and scarce financial resources, will continue to be the top priority. Strengthening sustainable operations is an important part of recovery, as Binna Burra aims to break into new ground as a leader in sustainable tourism approaches linked to the bigger picture of climate change, the SDGs and the UN Global Compact.
Within this context, some innovative new products (e.g. Bushwalker's Bar, Bushwalker's Bunkhouse, Bushfire Gallery, Koala Korner) are being developed, or about to be launched. In 2022 Binna Burra will be adding an Australian-first new adventure option known as Via Ferrata. This will be a high profile product that can help propel a revival of the lodge's previous adventure activities.
The 'new Binna Burra' will capture the 'spirit of Binna Burra' that so many generations have experienced, but without our heritage-listed old ecolodge and pioneer timber cabins, it will be a different experience that meets the needs of current and future generations.
Binna Burra Lodge operated for 86 years before the 2019 bushfires. Looking forward, the focus is also on the long-term - for the next 86 years of human activity and experiences within this world heritage listed Lamington National Park.
Reimagining Sustainable Hospitality
Binna Burra's business model can be described as a social enterprise with an environmental focus.
Since the early 1930s, Binna Burra has always been a story of resilience. Previous generations of custodianship of the Binna Burra Cultural Landscape have remarkable stories of resilience and that now continues after the 2019 bushfires.
The founders of Binna Burra dealt with the First World War, the Spanish Flu pandemic, the Great Depression, WW2, the threat of nuclear conflict during the Cold War, plus a bunch of other external pressures that current generations (thankfully) have not had to experience.
The lodge's recovery from the bushfires illustrates the power and value of goodwill, an intangible asset that can be described as ‘solidarity tourism’, evolving out of the ashes of the disaster.
For the first time since 1934, Binna Burra has undertaken an active share issue to raise the working capital necessary for the survival of a business. Under the company's constitution, no one shareholder can own more than 2.5% of the shares, so there are over 1,000 shareholders with relatively small amounts invested but they all feel part of the 'spirit of Binna Burra'.
Despite everything, Binna Burra maintains hope for the future, inspired by the current generation's respect for the commitment and history of those who have gone before us, and the need to ensure a sustainable nature-based tourism business is rebuilt for future generations.